Crocuta crocuta (Erxlebeh, 1777)
Range: Sub-Saharan Africa
Habitat: Savannah, Open Woodland
Diet: Carrion, Ungulates
Social Grouping: Female-Dominated Clans (up to 90 members). Clans break up and regroup frequently, may be encountered singly or in pairs
Reproduction: Breeding peaks in the wet season, but may occur year round. 1-2 cubs born after 110 day gestation period, reared by females alone. Young are born with eyes open and teeth developed, and begin competing at an early age. Weaned at 12-16 months. Females remain in natal group for life, males disperse at 2-3 years of age.
Lifespan: 15 Years (Captivity)
Conservation Status: IUCN Least Concern
- Largest of the hyena species, and second-largest carnivore in Africa after the lion. Body length 1.3-1.85 meters, stand 75 centimeters at the shoulder. Body weight 45-70+ kilograms. Females larger than males
- Dog-like appearance (though more closely related to cats), with thick neck, large ears, and high shoulders sloping down to smaller hindquarters.
- Sandy grey-brown coat has dark sports on back, flanks, and rump, fading with age. Small scruffy mane. Pups are solid black-brown
- Extremely powerful jaws enable them to crack and eat bones to access the marrow inside
- Best known as a scavenger, but very effective hunters in their own right, hunting cooperatively to capture prey as large as young rhinoceros and hippopotamus. Extremely adaptive, will exploit any available food source. Take readily to entering human settlements to forage
- Wide variety of vocalizations, including a whoop which can be heard over several kilometers (and used to recognize individual hyenas) and the famous laugh or giggle, a sign of nervousness or submission
- Females invest more energy in their offspring than any other carnivore - their milk is extremely rich in protein and fat (14% each), and they nurse for over a year.
- Unusual among carnivores in their female-dominant clans; the lowest ranking female outranks the highest ranking male. Female cubs inherit their social rank from their mothers.
- The genitalia of male and female spotted hyenas look remarkably similar; the female's clitoris very closely resembles the male's penis, and is even equipped with a mock-scrotum. This similarity led ancient naturalists to theorize that hyenas were hermaphroditic, or could change their sex at will
- Fierce competition with lions, the other large social carnivore on the African plains, resulting in mutual killings, robbing on prey, and harassment
- Population declining die to hunting, primarily due to peoples' concerns about hyena predation on their livestock; habitat availability is also declining
- In African myth and folklore, hyenas were often associated with witchcraft; witches roade hyenas, and sorcerers could turn themselves into hyenas. In western culture, they are best known either as comedic creatures (because of their laughter) or as cowardly scavengers